Walking home from a hospital appointment yesterday, I was struck by these trees in a local neighbourhood park. Almost leaning into the wintery blue skies as if reaching for the hazy sunlight, it’s just possible to see a hint of new growth on their bare branches.
Maybe spring is on its way in London…
Back in 2012, I wrote about the history of that well-loved icon of a London Christmas – the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree. Recently, while looking for something else entirely (as is always the way!), I came across a couple of vintage pictures of what appears to be the first tree to go up in the Square back in 1947, which I thought I would share with you this Christmas. From two different sources (click on each image for more information), these pictures were taken from different angles and seemingly by different photographers, but they clearly show the same tree and the crowds of Londoners who came to see it.
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
The last few days may have been a bit overcast and cloudy, but Friday was a beautiful early autumn day in my little corner of west London. As I went about my business, the morning skies were that fading, mist-tinged blue that I associate with such early October days; the sun a little lower in the sky and the trees just on the turn. Give it a week or so, and the full colourful impact of the season will be revealed right across London – and there are plenty of green spaces in the city where you can see the most glorious displays of colour as the trees prepare for the changing seasons.
Oh, I love this!
Like many, many people, I was genuinely upset when the novelist Terry Pratchett died last month. His books have been a part of my cultural existance almost as long as I can remember, and the joy they have brought into my life cannot be underestimated. So when I heard that a clever street art type had painted a tribute to him in east London, I had to go and find out what it was all about and report back to you all with photos.
And it’s wonderful.
Packed with many of Terry’s most beloved characters (and a great portrait of the man himself), this mural really is a fitting tribute to him. If you want to see it for yourself, you can find it right by the park in Code Street, off Brick Lane. I recommend you do go and have a look if you’re a fan, it’s an amazing piece of work!
It’s simple. One theme + ten songs = playlisting, Another Kind Of Mind style.
First up, here’s a selection of songs (in no particular order) about my favourite city in the world. London has been immortalised in song countless times over the centuries (if you don’t believe me, have a look at this), from traditional folk songs, jazz standards, musical revue numbers and music hall songs, to calypsos, reggae tracks, psychedelic rock epics, punk classics and rave remixes – and everything in between. Here are ten tracks I particularly love. If you’ve got any suggestions or reckon I’ve missed anything glaringly obvious, let me know here or on Twitter.
Lord Kitchener – London Is The Place For Me:
I’ve written before about the incredibly strange and random things people have been known to leave behind on the London Underground, on planes and in hotel rooms (it still amazes me that someone once checked out of a hotel and drove away without remembering they’d left a full size replica Dalek in their room (no, really). And, incidentally, how do you get a full size replica Dalek in your car anyway?).
Since 1934, items left behind on London’s buses, the tube and in taxis have been taken to the Transport for London Lost Property Office on Baker Street, an Aladdin’s cave of everything from abandoned umbrellas to forgotten mobile phones and beyond. But alongside the everyday things we all occasionally misplace, there’s also some very weird and wonderful things that have been sitting in the TfL Lost Property Office, just waiting to be reunited with their owners…
- A giant red-nosed reindeer stuffed toy
- A pair of size 17 trainers, belonging to a basketball player
- A stuffed puffer fish
- A gas mask
- A mannequin head used by trainee hairdressers to practice on
- A school crossing guard’s ‘lollipop’
- A gorilla costume, wearing an Hawaiian shirt
- An assortment of African carvings
- A life-sized stuffed Spiderman
- A pair of breast implants
- A wedding dress
Luckily, about a quarter of the lost property items found on the London transport network will be returned to their owners – but I suspect the giant red-nosed reindeer has metaphorically missed the boat (or possibly sleigh) this year…
Eagle-eyed readers might recall that I wrote a World War Two Christmas Miscellany post some years ago, examining the experiences of Christmas on the home front during that conflict – and since I have also been writing a series of posts on the First World War, I thought it would be interesting to try the same for 1914-1918 too.
This post mainly focuses on the wartime Christmas experiences of Londoners (mostly because I am a Londoner and I have posted about this city, its history and my fascination with it on many previous occasions), but I am sure those resident in other British towns, cities, and even smaller settlements would have had similar festive seasons and felt similar emotions during the war years to those living and working in the capital – these were, as you will see, difficult times for everybody, both at home and on the front line. Indeed, I was particularly interested to note just how bleak and, quite frankly, how depressing wartime Christmases became as the conflict progressed.
For more information on the subject, see the ‘Further reading, listening and sources’ section at the end of the post – and I would also be interested to hear from you if you have any further details of World War One home front Christmases in London, or from elsewhere in the country. You can leave a comment here or get hold of me on Twitter.
By December 1914, the oft-voiced view that the war would be ‘over by Christmas’ had already proved to be sadly mistaken – although it was unlikely that anyone preparing for the festive season that year could have possibly imagined there would actually be another three wartime Christmases yet to come before the return of peace.
Oxford Street in the run-up to Christmas (or at any time, really) can be hell on earth. Indeed, I remember getting uncomfortably stuck in a human traffic jam at Oxford Circus the day before Christmas Eve some years ago, after being unwillingly dragged up there for some last-minute shopping by a friend – I vowed ‘never again’ after that!
But while walking down towards Marble Arch and the bus home one evening a few weeks ago, I was struck by how pretty a lot of this year’s Christmas lights are, especially the delicate silvery-white sparkling globes strung across the length of Oxford Street. This makes a change, as anyone who witnessed the horribly tacky and disappointing ‘sponsored’ lights of the last few years will agree.
I bet you didn’t know that there’s a piece* of the Berlin Wall in London.
You can see it in the photograph above, taken yesterday in the grounds of the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth, where it has been since 1991. This small section of the Wall was originally from the area around the famous Brandenburg Gate and, according to the plaque at the foot of it, the striking artwork is by the graffiti artist Indiano.
It’s strange seeing this piece of the Wall here in London – and as history, too. Like so many, I grew up seeing it on the TV news as an ever-present Cold War reality, symbolic of a divided city and a divided nation. Twenty-five years after those vivid, emotional images of Berliners from both sides of the border finally meeting on that dark November night as the Wall began to fall, it still stands as a powerful reminder of those times and of those who lost their lives attempting to cross it.
* In fact, there are actually several pieces in London – the National Army Museum in Chelsea holds a number of segments in its collection and there is also a section situated at the German School in Richmond. Other pieces of the Wall can be found at sites in the UK and around the world.